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There you are in third place, your frags climbing fast, leaping from platform to platform, your railgun humming warmly in your digital hands. A glimmer to your left, is that an enemy? Splat, better safe than sorry. How many times have you killed that one guy now? Six? Seven? Ah who cares that's why they call it Free For All. Suddenly...

Sn1p3rk1LL3R: railgun bitch

What? You are sent spiralling down from your orgy of destruction as this strange comment springs forth into the message line, quickly followed by...

Sn1p3rk1LL3R: ur a railgun lamer
Sn1p3rk1LL3R: sniping is no skill

Ah yes. The immortal words - 'sniping takes no skill', or 'the railgun is lame'. I have heard these phrases too many times. For those unaware, this writeup relates to the genre of computer games known as First Person Shooters, specifically those with both a deathmatch option and some form of sniper weapon in their arsenal.

It seems that no matter what game is being played, as soon as a good sniper starts killing people regularly they become the object of derision. That in itself is fine, people always get pissed off at that frustratingly good player who just wont die, but I (as a sniper) resent this idea that snipers are lame. Sure, a camping sniper is a camper and therefore should be dragged out the back of the server and cleanly shot in the head, but that does not represent the majority of snipers. Most I see move around the levels like everyone else, but rather than leap into a rocket melee, back off and shoot rail bolts. This is a generally effective tactic for the highly skilled, but always, they are greeted by the same insults that railguns/sniper rifles/lightning guns take no skill.

Oh really?

Then in the words of Samuel L. Jackson, allow me to retort. Let us start with a breakdown of the sniper's weapon. Most games tend to have only one decent sniper weapon, the most noteable exception being Counter Strike, but even then a player carries only one. The sniper weapon, be it Quake's railgun, Unreal Tournament's sniper rifle or Tribes 2's laser rifle, often share the same characteristics:

  • Long range
    Generally, the weapon will have either an extremely long or even infinite range. This is obviously of great use to the sniper, especially in indoor/outdoor games like Tribes 2. Long range is implicit in any sniper weapon.
  • High power
    Following from 'real' sniper weapons, FPS sniper weapons have extremely high power, often carrying the ability to kill with either one hit or (more often) one head shot. This aspect of the sniper weapon is what most frustrates the guy at the business end, as a sniper can end a duel so very quickly, not allowing them opportunity to fight back.
  • Low rate of fire
    To balance the high power, the weapon will usually have a very long delay between shots, sometimes as high as one or two seconds. This is designed to prevent the weapon dominating the arena, as did the original rocket launcher in Quake I. This characteristic is most frustrating for the sniper, as the ability to kill quickly and efficiently is marred by the fact that if you miss once, you probably wont get a second shot.
  • Bullet-like projectile
    Translated from gaming jargon, this means the weapon's projectile resembles a bullet rather than a rocket or plasma bolt. In general this means that it travels instantaneously to target, causes no splash damage, and is invisible in the game world ie has no 'avatar'. This is a two-edged sword, as instantaneous travel allows for fantastic accuracy, but zero splash damage requires absolutely perfect accuracy.

Wielding a weapon with such varied characteristics is an extreme challenge, despite the heckles that frequently plague servers. Almost every shot has to have pinpoint accuracy, you simply must strike the target. If not, most good players will follow the shot trail back to you and rain rockets down. This kind of reproduceable accuracy is extremely difficult to attain, even with practice. Compare with the tactics of most rocket players, who jump around like lunatics shooting rockets all around in the hope of killing you with splash damage or the odd direct hit. Surely rocket-spamming is less skilled than tagging someone with a railgun every time. If you think leaping through the air to avoid a rocket whilst turning 180 degrees and plugging someone in the head is easy, let's see you do it.

The low rate of fire is also a major problem - it precludes the use of sniper weapons in melee situations. A sniper must attempt to withraw to a distance where his weapon is effective or switch to a more suitable weapon. From a distance, a sniper stands a good chance of killing everyone in a melee one after another, but up close he's toast.

It is my opinion that sniping cannot be attacked on grounds of 'no skill'. Sniping takes just as much if not more skill than any other tactic save camping, which as previously stated is just plain sad and must die. The reason, I believe, that most people attack snipers is that a good sniper is easily the most frustrating player to compete with. Someone with the reflexes to kill you with a click before you even knew he was there, and do this repeatedly, can spoil a game. I recall a Tribes 2 sniper named Kobey, who with his 80 ping was able to pin down an entire base of 16 players, finishing a half-hour match with a grand 74 kills. This cannot be accomplished without skill, however annoying you may find being sniped merely seconds after a respawn. So next time that guy has railgunned you AGAIN, I implore you to focus instead your energies on becoming better than him, rather than taking the piss to assuage your bruised ego.

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